WASHINGTON – At 91, Bob Dole won’t take no for an answer.
The former Senate majority leader and 1996 Republican presidential nominee on Wednesday renewed his plea for full ratification of a treaty promoting equal rights for disabled around the world. Veterans groups, organizations for the disabled and a handful of the Senate’s strongest proponents joined Dole in stepping up the pressure for a Senate vote.
In December 2012, Dole, looking frail and in a wheelchair, sat in the Senate chamber to show his support for the treaty. His appearance did little to sway Republican opposition as the treaty fell five votes short of ratification.
Undeterred nearly two years later, Dole said on Wednesday that the treaty was “the right thing to do” and urged ratification. He said 1,000 members of the disabled community will be lobbying the Senate next week for the treaty.
As a Republican, he said, “I don’t want to see a headline saying Republicans are voting against disabled Americans.”
Dole, who celebrated his 91st birthday on Tuesday, sat through the Capitol Hill news conference and spoke forcefully about the treaty.
The treaty extends many provisions in the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. Advocates say it benefits American veterans and others working, studying or travelling abroad.
Republican objections concern U.S. sovereignty, abortion and home-schooled children. The Obama administration says the accord changes nothing in U.S. law.
Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and John McCain, R-Ariz., said opponents have distorted the facts about what the treaty does, pushing patently false claims.
Ayotte said the treaty would not affect U.S. sovereignty or interfere with parents who want to home-school their children. McCain said he and a number of other proponents oppose abortion and would never back a treaty that undercuts restrictions.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who has returned to the Senate after suffering a stroke, described himself as a “recently disabled guy.” He said the treaty would be critical for disabled veterans travelling the world.
“They fought for freedom around the world,” Kirk said. “They should be able to move freely around the world.”
The treaty has been ratified by more than 130 countries, including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.
On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-6 to advance the treaty to the full Senate.
“We aren’t giving up,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who was instrumental in the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act.